How long should it take?

More than a few years ago, I was a student at the University of Maryland’s European campus. This was one of the few universities that offered courses to the US military and contractors stationed overseas. I had previously taken several of their course offerings in various subjects. I thought it was time to set up a plan of study to finally complete my degree.

Note that I was setting my goals long after I had enrolled. This was the bass-ackwards method of getting a degree that I now strongly advise against.

Story Time: I made an appointment with the University of Maryland counselor and she laid out a set of courses for me to take that would get me my AA degree in the short span of two to three years.

Since I had already completed several courses with University of Maryland, the three years seemed excessive. I had heard about the CLEP [About the College Level Examination Program (CLEP)] exams and wanted to take a few of those to cut down the time factor. I made another appointment with the counselor for the military CLEP exams, who was not affiliated with any of the universities. His name was Tony Quattrone.

After Tony looked over my proposed study plan, he asked, “Do you really want to take three years to get an AA?”

“No,” I replied, “is there a faster way?”

“Of course,” he said, handing me a CLEP exam sample question pamphlet. “Can you answer these questions?”

I looked over the sample questions and noted that it was for a test in Sociology, a subject that I had already taken in High School. Most of the material was familiar to me.

“I think I could pass this test,” I exclaimed.

“OK,” said Tony, “I’ll schedule you for the CLEP exam. Now go back to University of Maryland and tell them you want to change your major to Sociology. Once you pass the CLEP exams, you can get credit for them from University of Maryland. Then you will need to take the following courses.” Tony handed me a much shorter list. “I think you can get an AA in about one year.”

“Why is there such a huge difference between your study plan and the one prepared by the university counselor? Shouldn’t the university know the best way to obtain a degree?”

“Well,” said Tony, “the university is not in the business of giving degrees. They are in the business of hanging on to students for the longest amount of time possible. There’s nothing wrong with that. I have had other GI Bill students come in here and tell me they want to take the longest amount of time possible to graduate, to keep those monthly checks coming in. You just need to understand their motivation.”

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